Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This week we're reading and discussing books and poetry of E's choice. For instance, E. has been sharing with her younger sister how much she enjoys Shel Silverstein's books. And we are beginning--because E. wants to--our first play: Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Much more on that soon.

Alice in Wonderland.

This week E. is choosing her own books, and she loved Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This is a very good reading comprehension quiz for AiW, and is targeted perfectly for seventh or eighth graders.

We enjoyed our own Wonderland today, too. We took a long hike and when we got good and tired, we went to the library. It was a wonderful day.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Raven.

To get E. thinking about the different elements of meaning in a poem, we began to discuss rhythm and meter today. The three poems chosen--and this worked well, so I recommend them as a unit--are The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe; The Land of Counterpane by Robert Louis Stevenson (quite a stark contrast in tone to Poe, as well); and Sonnet 73 ("That time of year thou may'st in be behold") by William Shakespeare.

Begin with The Raven. As a method to convey the way that rhythm enhances meaning, consider having your home learner select a stanza and practice reading it aloud until--through inflection, diction, and, yes, drama--the student "gets" what Poe is saying and how he is doing so. It's helpful to use this poem as a start because the rhythm and meter replicate the idea of the bird 'rapping' and 'tapping' and saying 'nevermore.' It is easier for the student to grasp the elusive connection between "sound" and "meaning" than in more subtle uses of meter.

This is a practical look at rhythm and meter, including a very good quiz.

Here are some other useful links:

The University of Delaware has great Poe online resources.

A sound modern side-by-side reading of Sonnet 73.

Rhythm, meter and scansion made easy.

Here is a recitation of The Raven by actor Christopher Walken.
And here is an excellent science site about the lore of ravens, including lesson plans.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Life Adventurous.

There's no science class (Project GUTS) today, so we are reading Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. First published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows remains a well-loved children’s classic.

For Wind, we think the definitive illlustrations are by E. H. Shepard (he's pictured above). We discovered this weekend that the 1948 David Lean production of Oliver Twist based makeup and costumes on Cruikshank's illustrations for the original edition of the book, and also served as the narrative basis for the musical Oliver!, in many cases line for line. Shepard also did the original renditions of the characters in A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh books.

We are going to explore all the usual elements, and also use the text to talk about...pantheism. If you've read the story, you'll know why.

Here's a thorough reading comprehension quiz.

And these are some thematic questions we are considering:
  • What are wayfarers? Are we all wayfarers?
  • Select any passage where the author shows Toad up to his tricks. Note how Grahame handles the material to give pleasure without, at the same time, granting approval. Discuss the passage.
  • What does the wind symbolize?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bridge to Terabithia.

E. finished reading The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson when we were stopping to do some errands at a local market. When I opened the rear door so she could get out, she just sat, eyes red. She needed to be alone with her grief for a while. Let me just say that E. is not a kid who emotes very much, although she is connected deeply to emotional truth. So as we recommend this book, we also must mention that it is a difficult story about friendship and loss. It is based on a true event; here is an NPR interview with the author that elaborates upon that.
Here is a multiple choice quiz on the book.
Here is another from
This is a good source of lesson plans for the book (scroll down to Instructional Plan). One intriguing question raised here is to read the lyrics to Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water", listen to the song, and consider this: How is the bridge over troubled water in the song like the bridge to Terabithia in the book? Who else in the book besides Jess and Leslie might the song lyrics fit?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Miracle Worker

We watched The Miracle Worker this weekend and were reminded what an outstanding movie (and screenplay) it is. Here are two good quizzes about the plot: from Quia and from, oddly enough,

Here is a good site about sign language. And here you can see words in Braille to understand more how reading by touch works.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Cartography and geography.

Working for Meals on Wheels proceeds apace and the experience continues to be an eye-opening one. But it's not only the humanity that is educational for E.

She has also become an expert map reader, as this is a tricky, sprawling community to get around in. Add the pressure of needing to get warm lunches swiftly to the people on your list. E. is great at this.

We want to reiterate an excellent site for geographical knowledge, and that is the GeoBee page of Each day, there is a new 10-question quiz. If your student works to answer all the questions once (always have a world map and a U.S. map handy), the opportunities for further exploration of topics raised by the questions is immense. You can use the topics as a free-for-all lesson plan; yesterday one of the subjects that riveted E. had to do with the Caspian Sea. Just go with it!

A useful approach is to go through the questions once and if a couple are missed, repeat the whole test a second time to reinforce correct answers. This is a great resource!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Here are civics and U.S. government questions ranging from grade six to eight. If your home learner can do well on these tests, he or she will be in good shape in this subject area. This is an excellent overall civics test (multiple choice) that can also serve as a helpful study guide.

Oliver Twist study guide links.

As we finish up our study of Oliver Twist, E. is intrigued about Dickens' own story, about his father's time in debtor's prison and his own traumatic experience working in the blacking factory.
Based on elements of his biography, this is a productive essay question: List the characters in Oliver Twist who do not live in poverty. What does each character see when they look at Oliver? How does their judgment and treatment of Oliver reflect who they are, what they believe, and what their values are?

Also, is the criminal underworld better or worse than the workhouse? What does Oliver find in his first days living in Fagin's den that he has never known before? What does Dickens believe is the relationship between poverty and criminality? What do you think the relationship is today?

Is Nancy a heroic figure? Why does she return to Bill?

Since the publication of Oliver Twist, many readers have had difficulty understanding Nancy's fidelity to the brutal Bill Sikes. Did you find it natural or unnatural? Probable or improbable? Read Dickens's Preface, written for the 1841 edition of the novel. How does he defend the character he created? Paraphrase his argument and respond to it. Here are biographical facts about Charles Dickens that may help you directly relate his story to the story of Oliver Twist.

It's fascinating to read about the fervor with which people greeted each new chapter from Dickens' serialized fiction, and a good place to begin is the dramatic response to each section of The Olde Curiousity Shoppe that arrived on American shores describing the fate of Little Nell.
There are many ways to bring alive this wonderful author for a modern young reader.
Here is a decent SparkNotes quiz about the novel. For contextual studies, this is a very good site about British newspapers during the novel's era.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

"Yes we can."

What a perfect moment in history to teach presidential politics. Although he is not our choice for President, we accompanied Aunt Barbara to a rally for Barack Obama at Santa Fe Community College. He has a certain something in person that we hadn't detected on television. And, of course, he is an excellent orator; E. appreciated his inclusive message. (I'm fairly sure we were asked to sit on the stage with him because our family is a vivid example of diversity.)
Now we are exploring the concepts of "Super Tuesday," the nomination process, and assignment of delegates.
Try this civics test for starters. And when you get enough correct answers on this civics quiz, you get to... Fling the Teacher. Warning to parents: this site does have a slight tilt towards being "liberal" or "progressive" regarding immigration.